Some games sound so unbelievably crazy that you're sure they're going to be damn good fun to play. Donkey Kong Jet Race sees a load of monkeys and lizards racing jets in a Mario Kart fashion. Add in the fact that these jets are really just bongo drums and that this is a first-party game from Nintendo, and you'd put down good money that the Wii had the perfect game to tide us over until Mario Kart Wii arrives later in the year. What a foolish bet that would have been.
Jet Race (or Barrel Blast) as it's known elsewhere, is sadly another sub-par character-based racer. It started out in life as a GameCube game that would make use of the fun GameCube bongo controller. With the GameCube now dead and everyone and their cat loving the motion controlled shenanigans offered by the Wii, someone at Nintendo obviously thought switching the game to the Wii made sense.
The problems revolve around the controls. To build up speed you drum the Wii Remote and Nunchuck as if you were beating the bongo drums. This will eventually build up speed until you reach the game's meandering top speed, at which point you can just coast along. Turning (or lane switching, to be more accurate) is handled by swiping either the Nunchuck (to turn left) or the Wii Remote (to turn right). After some practice you can just about get the hang of things, but at any moment you can be on the wrong end of a turn when you wanted to be accelerating. You're essentially playing an on-rails racer, with the lane switching being done in order to avoid obstacles and to pick up items.
Thankfully there are ways to increase your plodding top speed. You can fly through the barrels that litter the courses (why these make you go faster is unknown, but barrels always appear in Donkey Kong games so it must make sense) or collect enough bananas to give you a temporary speed boost. It's all pretty typical character-based racing stuff, but the novelty wears off very quickly.
Things aren't helped by the incredibly tough AI racers that crop up once you've moved past the opening races. Hit something (most likely because the game recognised a drum motion as a desire to turn) and the whole pack will be on your back. Most of the later races only require one mistake for the entire thing to be a waste of time. Again, not much fun at all. You can try to take down the racers that scream past you by using a fairly uninspired bunch of weapons, but winning or losing usually always comes down to the mistakes you make.
Single-player game modes are pretty plentiful, but it's unlikely that you'll want to play through them all. The four-player split-screen modes offer perhaps the most fun, but even without the rubber-band AI racers you still have to put up with the hit and miss controls and the simplicity of it all. Unless you've got a group of friends who have all played the game before you might as well not bother.
Visually Jet Race is about as simple as the gameplay, putting it on par with an average GameCube game. It's a pretty colourful game, but track-side detail is bland and there's very little to get excited about. The audio is far worse, with the tunes on offer best described as bizarre and better turned off completely if you want to retain your sanity.
Wii games sometimes get some unfair criticism because of the audience they're trying to appeal to, but Donkey Kong Jet Race is a lacklustre effort no matter who plays it. The fairly generic presentation and cheating AI could be overlooked if the core gameplay was great, but it's not. The motion sensitive controls are fiddly and at times completely broken, making Jet Race mildly fun for about an hour at most.